Fall in Yellowstone

Blog entries have been a little lean since my 30 day burst of fishing from late August through much of September.  I simply fell behind in my work and also my parents are out visiting.  They are from New Hampshire and this is their first visit in about two years.  My dad loves to fly fish but unfortunately he suffers badly from Parkinson’s.  Although we are trying to do some fishing together he’s not often able too.  This past weekend Granny and I led them to Yellowstone Park to try and find some bears and hopefully wet a line with dad.

Granny and I have two favorite times to be in Yellowstone Park – early in the spring and late in the fall.  If you’ve been to Yellowstone but not at these times, do it.  Both are times when there are few human visitors and plenty of wildlife.  On our spring trip the landscape is barren and most areas are covered in snow.  There are animal babies everywhere and you can spend your whole day looking through your binoculars and never get bored. That’s good because in early May the fishing season has yet to open.  In the fall all the aspens and cottonwoods are shedding their leaves. Rather than snow, the ground is covered in leaves of every color.  The grasses are brown and the animals are feeding with winter on their minds.  And unlike in spring when you can’t fish, fall fishing in Yellowstone can be incredible.

Saturday was a casual day for us.  We took two cars.  Dad rode with me in the old exploder and Granny and Mom followed us in their rental.  Our final destination was Cooke City, Montana.  A distance from Victor, Idaho of about 200 miles.  With that in mind, Saturday was mostly about driving through both Teton and Yellowstone Parks and enjoying the fall scenery and looking for wildlife.  Temps are still unusually hot for this time of year and wildlife viewing was poor through most of the day.  Along the way we stopped at Lewis Lake hoping to spot some gulping brown trout but things were quiet.  Then we pulled off at several of my favorite haunts on the Yellowstone River hoping to catch one rising YellowstoneCutthroat but there wasn’t an insect to be found and therefore no risers to be seen. 

At 5 PM we found ourselves descending down Dunraven Pass when about a ½ mile below the road I spotted a grizzly bear moving fast across a meadow.  We pulled over and watched him with binoculars for about ten minutes.  He was a large bear on a mission and eventually he disappeared into some trees along Antelope Creek.  The road we were on actually meets Antelope Creek about two miles further down it so I drove us to that spot and we pulled off there and waited about a half hour hoping the very same bear may show up.  Sure enough he did and we got to watch him pass our cars from very close.  Seeing a wild grizzly this close is a rare thing.  This was a big bear of about 400lbs with two badly bloodied up ears, likely from a recent fight.  Just as fast as he appeared he moved on past and into the wilderness away from the roads. 

From there we passed through Lamar Valley where we saw the usual hundreds of buffalo, elk, pronghorn antelope, deer, a red fox and even a pair of mountain goats high on a mountainside near the North East gate to the park.  Then we settled into Cooke City.  My parents stayed in a hotel while Granny and I camped just outside of town.

Sunday morning we hit the pavement early driving back the way we came through Lamar Valley in search of more wildlife.  We just missed seeing the Lamar Canyon wolf pack cross the road with pups and all.  No matter how early you are, you’re often too late for wildlife. From Lamar we drove through Mammoth and towards the Gibbon River.

The Gibbon River is by no means a fall season hotspot for fishing.  Everyone goes to the Madison and the Firehole River.  But for that very reason I fish the Gibbon every fall.  Normally around the 1st of October, you can expect cool overcast weather that’s perfect for a thick blue wing olive hatch.  Or if warmer, in the 60ºs, you see mahogany duns hatching.  Unfortunately, yesterday was still too warm for either and the only insects we saw were the occasional grasshoppers and the fish weren’t on them. 

Water levels on the Gibbon are very low.  It’s amazing how fast the Yellowstone area went from too much water to hardly any.  The normally deep pools that often provide surprisingly nice browns were shallow.  The few fish we saw were spooking and swimming away as fast as they could.  Nonetheless, dad was feeling well and I strung him up with my 5-weight Ross and a wooly bugger he tied himself years ago.  Then I kicked back and watched him fish for about two hours.  He fished well.  He made long accurate casts and stripped his fly in and out of all the best looking water.  It was great to see dad casting and fishing in Yellowstone.  He took me fishing here for my high school graduation present in 1982 and that trip is probably why I moved here.  It was a trip we will always remember because the fishing was so damn good.
At the end of two hours we covered about eight of my favorite pools and managed only one lost fish.  Too me it was disappointing but dad assured me how happy he was just to get out and fish.

Despite not having any great fishing we had enjoyable weekend.  Seeing a big grizzly at close range made the trip for us all.  The fall scenery was incredible and spending time with the folks is something we rarely get to do because we live so far away.  My parents are here till next weekend and will join Granny and me to Bozeman, Montana to see the premiere of ConfluenceFilms new fly fishing movie, “Connect”.

One Response to “Fall in Yellowstone”

  1. Erik Moncada October 5, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    I have never been to Yellowstone this time of year. I will have to plan a trip. Good luck on your new movie

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